The Burke/Hextall Era Begins

Less than two weeks after Jim Rutherford just up and quit, the Pittsburgh Penguins today named Brian Burke President of Hockey Operations and Ron Hextall the 11th General Manager in team history.

“With these two guys, we have two of the greatest minds in hockey,” CEO David Morehouse said. “Two of the most respected people in hockey. It carries on a tradition of the Penguins that goes back to when we had Badger Bob, Scotty Bowman and Jim Rutherford on to today with Brian Burke and Ron Hextall.

The Penguins say Hextall will handle the day-to-day hockey operations, while reporting to Burke. Burke will then report directly to David Morehouse.

Of the two hires, let’s start with the biggest one of the day in Brian Burke.

No matter how the Penguins wanted to present it today, let’s make this as clear as can be:

The 65 year old Brian Burke is running the show in the hockey operations department. It’s going to be his way and it’s the only way he knows. Burke is entertaining, he’s abrasive, he will challenge holdovers in the organization, and those working under him for however long it may be, better get on board or they’ll be out the door. Mario Lemieux & Co know what they’re getting into with Burke. Burke’s not coming here to just sit back, meet with corporate sponsors, and give his opinion every now and then on certain things.

They are handing him the keys and it’s going to be his vision and blueprint laid out over the next year or so. As some close to the situation who like David Morehouse a lot personally have told me — the less To read this insider news, subscribe to get “Inside Access”!

The interesting thing with the Burke hiring is the Sportsnet personality had been heavily consulting the Penguins in their GM search. In fact, Burke had been also consulting David Morehouse on possible names the Penguins should consider for a President of Hockey Operations role. PTo read this insider news, subscribe to get “Inside Access”!

Mario Lemieux eventually asked why not Brian Burke [for President of Hockey Operations]?

“Morehouse talked to Mario and Mario said, “well what’s he doing?,” Burke said. “When he called back, I would have said no, if it was anyone but David Morehouse and the Pittsburgh Penguins. I was happy with my life and happy to stay [in media]. I like living in Toronto. But, you get to work for the Pittsburgh Penguins, man. You’re talking, this is Cadillac class here. This is not your run of the mill team.”

The contrasting personalities and beliefs in vision will be an interesting dynamic between Burke and Ron Hextall over the next couple years.

Burke is 65 years old who now has Sidney Crosby. He’s not going to embrace some Ron Hextall Flyers type slow re-tool like Hextall executed in Philadelphia. And Hextall is smart enough where he never proposed that to the Penguins.

“I like young players and I like draft picks. My vision is to build this team and continue to make this team better through the draft” — Ron Hextall at his introduction press conference with the Flyers in May 2014–

Hextall was a man of his word in Philadelphia over the 4 1/2 seasons. That’s who he was and is as a manager. He doesn’t like trading young players for older players and he’s on the record saying that, followed by his actions.

But, the good ones know each situation is different.

Hextall sang a different tune today compared his Flyers introductory press conference.

“This situation I’m coming into now is certainly different than the one that we took over in LA or in Philadelphia,” said Hextall. “I’m not a one-trick pony.”

Will Burke’s aggressive management style combined with Hextall’s eye for young talent bring out the best in both in trying to re-tool on the fly?

Burke’s go for it attitude will fit the win-now mentality ownership has. But, where this hire could pay dividends is that Burke isn’t going to be shy about giving this organization a dose of reality that this is nowhere close to a championship level team.

“I’m not going to back away from anything I said in my media role,” said Burke who not long ago said the Penguins window is “closed”. “The way I compare teams, you take a team and write it down on paper, and put it next to the Tampa Bay Lightning.”

Burke adds “But, I also think when you have pieces like we have here, you’ve got to try to win.”

— The organization is at a stage right now where they need someone to come in and be willing to go off the current path the Penguins left over front office types (some who were gaining significant power prior to Rutherford’s resignation) and the head coach, who continue to live by this belief that the 2016 model is the only way to build a team and play like from a style standpoint. It’s 2021….. the league evolves every couple years……

Burke embraces skilled players. He loved the Sedin’s and Phil Kessel. But, here’s a guy who is a believer in a heavy game. He is going to hate the lack of size on the wings and the lack of Patric Hornqvist types. Whether they put together right personnel and vision remains to be seen, it’s hard to see Burke and Hextall, who was the assistant GM for those Kings Cup teams that were heavy/puck possession monsters, embracing the current makeup of this team and embracing the current style of play under Mike Sullivan.

Burke/Hextall are going to be limited to retool this team in a big way during this season. Those are just facts. The Summer/Fall will be the telling point.

“We’ll see where this goes,” said Hextall. “We’ll see how good we are.”

One of the more fascinating situations to watch is how aligned the coach and front office will be on how this team needs to play in the weeks and months ahead.

All indications are Mike Sullivan will more likely than not [hide] get the season. Even with the contract and around $12 million left on his deal after this season, the microscope is going to be on Sullivan immediately. Sullivan starts a 40+ game showcase to prove to Brian Burke he’s his guy on how much job security he’s actually going to have.[/hide]

High-ranking sources say too much is being made about the remaining money left on Sullivan’s deal when it comes to his job security. SullivanTo read this insider news, subscribe to get “Inside Access”!